Monday, May 20, 2013

Revisionist History or Continued Controversy?

There has been a lot of talk recently about "Comfort Women" who suffered at the hands of the Japanese Imperial Army during WWII. This has long been a subject of controversy and debate by those of us who were not around during the 1930's-1940's. Most recently from the right wing Mayor of Osaka who says these women were not sex slaves. He went on to further compare the US Occupation period and US Involvement in Viet Nam as a comparison. While there is little written about what Americans were doing in during the Occupation of Post War Japan, it's doubtful our country abducted women to be forced to work as sex slaves which is what Wartime Imperial Japan has long been accused of. As the son of a Viet Nam veteran I can say yes our troops visited brothels there but none of them run by our own government so to Mr. Hashimoto we say his comparison to our soldiers in Viet Nam to Korean sex slaves is crazy. Now please understand, we are not here to re-fight WWII, nor are we here to make excuses. It is generally believed here in the west that these war time human rights violations did occur. A friend of ours really got upset with us saying these old women are just lying. Anyone who has taken a course in statistics will tell you that if you find a group comprised of test subjects from different countries all collectively saying the same thing, chances are as in this case some 80,000 women are not lying. The truth is out there. Of course the counter argument is how come these so called victims did not speak out? Where's the proof? I say talk to any German who witnessed the raping of Berliners after the Soviets invaded. The shame of rape is unspeakable for those who endured it much less survived it. So much so that many women who have survived rape often commit suicide. It is possible In Asia, women are even less likely to speak publicly of this shame leaving only the loud taunts of nay-sayers in the wake of their silence. To us in the west it is as outrageous as Holocaust Denial. While we at American Mishima are very Pro-Japanese, we can not and will not give carte blanche nor parley war crimes from any country including our own. We understand that in Japan, such events be it the truth or otherwise are not part of their historical record taught to younger generations. So much of what happened during the war both good and bad are as if they never happened. It surprises us every year when NHK will send reporters to Hiroshima to interview High School Students about the atomic bomb. Most were completely unaware that where they stood people were once vaporized. The idea is so horrifying and incredible they do not believe it. So in one sense, those of us born after 1950 should expect opinions based on the information made available to them. But this is not the sole domain of Japan nor uniquely a Japanese problem. We find similar revisionist or historical omissions of what took place during those years happened here. Unless you read books written by Japanese-Americans, you won't find much about how they were stripped of everything they owned and forced to board trains to concentration camps. Oh hell no! Sounds like Nazi Germany right? But yes it happened here. Albeit, Manzanar was no Auschwitz, it was still a shameful event that should not have happened. So going back to Comfort Women, so few are still alive. Japan has made monetary amends and set up a fund of ~¥79,643,790,000 which amounts to around $1 Billion Dollars. Of course, no amount of cash can erase the shame or painful memories. And at this age there are likely fewer than 5000 of these women left alive hence their silence is easily drowned out by those who vehemently claim this never happened or they did this willingly. It is possible that "Comfort Women" from Japan may have done this as some means of survival or national duty. Statistics say we can not rule that out. Japan like every other country had it's red light districts so that's entirely possible that some Japanese women may have done this willingly. The problem is we have never seen or heard from any Japanese woman who may have volunteered and by now likely never will. Napoleon Bonaparte once said that History is a set of lies men have agreed upon. And so it may. It's not our responsibility to convince Mr. Hashimoto. He's entitled to his own opinion whether we agree with him or not. For the most part we do not and in others we feel his English has mistranslated or confused some things. We are pleased that Mr. Abe's Government does not share his views and wishes he would quietly keep them to himself. It's not in Japan's interests to debate revisionist history. Comfort Women as terrible as the accounts of Korean and Chinese survivors claim was only a facet of an ugly period run by people who do not represent Japan today. The Japanese people of today could not have done such a thing nor any of the other war time atrocities particularly those in Nanking. That generation had grown up under military dictatorship and was not ready to be the Japanese we know today. Regardless of that little known fact here in the west, there's just no excuse for war crimes and other human rights violations. As much as we like to defend Japan, such actions are indefensible. It's often said war brings out the worst in us. While they do preach in Japan that war is bad, they never really explain in depth to the younger post war generations why it is such or what their country once did during that war. And perhaps they are not ready to. It's not for us Americans to say. Time heals most wounds or so we're told. Japan has come a long way. While the path never truly ends, we hope that a future generation will get Japan there.

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